The Vikings’ second-half trances have now graduated to a level of futility so bizarre they may have to scrap their weekly game plans and switch to group therapy sessions and on-site counseling.
These towns are loaded with practitioners who deal with abnormal behavior.
In fact, there might be no time to lose. In the wake of their third straight loss to open the season, 26-23 in overtime to the Detroit Lions at the Metrodome Sunday, the Vikings this week face the equally winless but suddenly aroused Kansas City Chiefs. Why are they aroused? The Chiefs likewise have lost their first three games, but they are blissful about scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of their loss to San Diego Sunday. They’re sure to claim the advantage of momentum in Kansas City. The Vikings can only envy that feat.
The saga of this Viking season is that deranged. The team has yet to score a second-half touchdown. Its performance infuriated the Metrodome crowd and Viking veterans who have won before and are sick of the Jekyll-and-Hyde split personality of a team that has now self-destructed in the second half for three consecutive weeks.
Ingenious second-half nosedives
Nothing in recent NFL history quite matches the Vikings’ second-half nosedives for pure ingenuity. In all of the games, they were clearly the superior team in the first half, not only building impressive leads but mounting a clear domination of the play for two quarters. It got to be progressive: a 17-7 lead against San Diego, then 17-0 against Tampa Bay and 20-0 against Detroit.
Ironically, it was the Lions’ one link to their disreputable past, the marvelous kicking relic Jason Hanson, who won the game with his 32-yard field goal. It came just two minutes into overtime after Calvin Johnson’s remarkable catch — head tilted backward, gathering the ball with his fingertips.
But how many ways can you spell collapse?
On Sunday, the Vikings overextended themselves by adding what looked to be a momentary stare-down between the Viking huddle and the Viking coaching staff in a crucial part of the fourth quarter. To the crowd, it looked as though the coaching staff was considering a field goal to hold off the Lions’ charge late in the game. Joined by several teammates in the huddle, Adrian Peterson lobbied against a field goal, motioning the bench to keep the kicking team off the field.
Coach Leslie Frazier said afterward he was harboring no thoughts for a field goal. Lining up, the Lions figured that with Peterson on the field, the Vikings had the best running back in football primed to get the first down. A few million people made the same assumption.
The play from the bench called for Toby Gerhart, the line-banging fullback from Stanford, to get the critical yard. The opposing lines crunched and Gerhart missed the first down by inches, turning the ball over to the Lions.
Frazier later defended the call and insisted a field goal was not seriously considered and that the Gerhart play had been a consistent gainer through the early season. But the Lions jammed him, and it clearly was a game changer.
Frustrated, furious Jared Allen
On the Viking sideline, Jared Allen, the blitzing defensive end, groaned when the play just missed the first down. Allen is the Vikings goad and conscience jazzing his team to deliver, an energizer and ramrod. Now he was seeing the team going into the tank for the third time, and it was killing him.
His game Sunday reflected that fury. He came at the Lions from different directions, lining up on the right side, on the left side, getting three sacks, digging in and then storming around. On the other end, Brian Robison delivered two sacks. But the Viking defensive backs couldn’t handle the Lions’ best receivers, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, and the Lions slowly took control, helped by a few dimwit Viking penalties with the game hanging in the balance.
The Vikings opened with an obvious urgency that they poured it into the first half with a zest that actually threatened a runaway. Peterson broke a 43-yard run early, later scored from six yards out and Percy Harvin joined the ground game with his end-around sprints and his receiving threat, reduced later when he spent extended time on the sidelines, beaten up and pretty well gassed.
Donovan McNabb hit Visanthe Shiancoe with an 8-yard touchdown pass, Ryan Longwell kicked two field goals and there it was after two quarters, Vikings leading 20-0. This, against a Detroit organization that hadn’t won a road game in Minnesota for 13 years.
But once past their stumbling first half, the Lions weren’t the Lions of the last 13 years. They’ve been lifted to respectability by the maturing of such stars as quarterback Matthew Stafford, Johnson and Jahvid Best, by the giant defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and by quality coaching.
They were undefeated and, after being stonewalled by the Allen-led Viking defense in the first half, came out banging and throwing. Stafford hit Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew repeatedly in the second half and connected with Johnson from 32 yards out to cut the Viking lead to 20-7.
And then it was Johnson again from the Viking 5 in the fourth quarter. Hanson tied it at 20-20 with a 50-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. He added another of 40 yards to give the Lions their first lead at 23-20. But Ryan Longwell matched that from 49 yards to tie the game at 23 and send it into overtime. The Lions won the toss and received, and Johnson’s great catch and Hanson’s fourth field goal ended it.
Restless fans want a change
When it was over, the departing fans clearly had no stomach for condolences. They weren’t enamored of one more marginal performance by veteran quarterback McNabb, and the chorus insisting on a switch to rookie Christian Ponder got louder. In the blogosphere, the popularity of Leslie Frazier took additional hits.
In his postgame interview time, he was the same Leslie, calm and sensible, declining to point fingers but still convinced that his team will hit stride.”We just have to make some plays,” he said. “We just have to stay together.” The Vikings, he said, were still in it.
The numbers suggested that may be a stretch. The Lions gained 338 yards through the air, the Vikings 189. Two weeks before, they had gained 39 yards passing. In this league, the run game is admired, but the forward pass is what usually wins.